Spyros Gianniotis of Greece defended his title in the grueling 10-kilometer open water event at the swimming world championships on Monday, surging ahead on the final lap to avoid a sprint with Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia.
Gianniotis clocked 1 hour, 49 minutes, 11.8 seconds in the waters of Barcelona’s harbor.
Five-time world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany finished second, 2.7 seconds behind, and Mellouli was third, 7.4 back.
Mellouli won Saturday’s 5K race with an impressive sprint finish and he was at or near the lead for much of this race but Gianniotis took the initiative on the final lap to gain a clear lead of two bodylengths ahead of Mellouli and Lurz.
“I wasn’t feeling so good but I picked it up and got in the first places the last lap and I said to myself, ‘That’s it, go in front and whatever happens happens,’» Gianniotis said. «Im quite good on sprinting but not like Oussama. … I knew that if it goes to the end, even if hes more tired than me hes got more speed than me, so I tried to stay in front.”
Having skipped the 5K, in which Lurz took bronze, Gianniotis appeared fresher than his rivals.
“I pushed a bit in the last 300 meters to make a bit of a (gap) in case he came really hard,» Gianniotis added. «The last 50 meters Ive never felt so bad in my life. I was nearly fainting. … My hands were (shaking).”
While the race began at noon under a searing sun with an air temperature of near 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), water conditions were ideal at 25 C.
Swimmers completed four laps over the 2.5-kilometer L-shaped course in Barcelona’s harbor, as fans watched from the shore.
Olympic bronze medalist Richard Weinberger of Canada failed to swim around the buoy at the races midpoint and had to go back to do it correctly, dropping him nearly a minute behind the leaders. Still, he battled back and took the lead with 2.5K to go but finished fifth, 8.1 behind.
Gianniotis finished fourth at the London Games but wasn’t quite sure if the world title was redemption.
“It’s not the same,» he said. «I don’t know if I want to be happy or upset that I was not on a podium position in the Olympics. But I came here with only 3 1/2 months training and I won. After the Olympics I was feeling very bad psychologically but this is sport and I said to myself I wanted to come back.”
With Greece still mired in economic crisis, Gianniotis dedicated the victory to his countrymen.
“I wanted to do this at the Olympics and that’s why I was upset,» he said. «This is for my country, my coach and then people who love and support me. My federation has cried a lot for me and I thank them a lot.”
Another Greek, Antonis Fokaidis finished 32nd.
The women’s 10K is scheduled for Tuesday, with the participation of Greeks Marianna Lymperta and Kelly Araouzou, who finished fourth on Saturday in the 5k.